In a move that has been brewing for months, the three top executives of United Artists Corp: today announced they were resigning. The departure is understood to stem from deep dissatisfaction the executives have with Transamerica Corp., a West Coast insurance conglomerate, which acquired U.A. in 1967.
The U.A. executives have been trying to extract the movie company from Transamerica reportedly because of unhappiness that the success of U.A. does not get reflected in Transamerica's stock, and because of what the U.A. executives consider a havy management hand over their operations.
Eric Pleskow, the president and chief executive of U.A. announced his resignation, according to a statement from U.A. chairman Arthur Krim. Krim said that he and Robert S. Benjamin, chairman of the finance committee had also told Transamerica they intend to resign from its board of directors as well as their posts with U.A.
The effective dates of these resignations will await discussion with Transamerica management, looking toward effecting an orderly transition, the three said in a statement.
Pleskow, Benjamin and Krim cited incompatablities which had caused these steps to be taken but also said they were satisfied to be leaving U.A. in the healthiest condition in its 59-year history.
In 1977, which was the best year ever for the motion picture business, U.A.'s global film rentals set an all-time industry record of $318 million. Such films as Annie Hall, Rocky, The Spy Who Loved Me, and The Pink Panther Strikes Again, A Bridge too Far and Semi Tough contributed to the 1977 total. U.A. also topped all motion picture companies in 1976 with film rentals of $229.5 million.
The depature of the U.A. executives had been rumored since a verbal shoot-out appeared in the current issue of Fortune magazine, with Krim and Transamerica Corp. chairman and chief executive officer John R. Beckett firing at each other in an article that described U.A.'s unsuccessful attempt to divorce itself from the parentconglomerate. These attmepts have been turned down several times by the Transamerica board.
"You will not find any top officers here who feels that Transamerica has contributed anything to United Artists, Krim was quoted as saying.
Beckett, meanwhile, Told Fortune that if the people at United Artists don't like it, they can quit and go off on their own. Which is what has happened.
According to the last Transamerica proxy statement, Krim is the largest shareholder in Transamerica with 316,533 shares. Benjamin has 218,504 shares. Pleskow is not a director so his shares are not listed.
A spokesman for Transamerica said U.A. has excellent depth of management and that is expects another strong year in 1978. He added that U.A. will continue to operate under the same management philosophies and methods as in the past. THe spokesman called the Fortune article unfortunate because it did pinpoint a lot of areas that were distorted in our view, without emphasizing the fact of the company's success.
The U.A. executives were unavailable for comment.
United Artists was founded in 1919 by Douglas Fairbanks Sr., Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplin and D.W. Griffith, hence its name.
Unlike other movie companies, U.A. has no studio. Instead it puts up the money for motion pictures that others produce and then distributes them for a fee, plus taking a percentage of the gross profits. The company in recent years has had the reputation of giving filmmakers complete artistic freedom once a deal has been struck.